SUPERMAN #20 By Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason
Superman returns to his roots in this homegrown tale that gives us delightful character dynamics and a beautiful visual narrative.
97 %
A visual treat
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With the events of “Superman Reborn” finally in the rearview mirror, writers Patrick Gleason and Peter J. Tomasi turn to a new mystery: Jon Kent and the development of his powers. With a couple of unexpected twists, SUPERMAN #20 presents the beginning of an exciting new story arc that smartly shifts focus from the Man of Steel onto his son — and a surprising guest character.

Superman #20

SUPERMAN #20 opens with a bright new day in Hamilton County. Jon plays with his friend Cathy while Superman flies about the city in his bright new colors. Now that Superman and Lois have had their full memories and identities restored, things are looking up for the Super-family — that is until Batman and Damian Wayne show up. Batman informs the Kents that Jon’s powers should have fully manifested by now, but something is apparently suppressing those powers and that if Jon’s abilities should ever go beyond his control, it could spell danger for the entire world.

The set-up to this new story is effectively simple, dipping between modes of light and dark. The first half of SUPERMAN #20 positively shines with upbeat energy. Superman flying over Hamilton, Jon racing his friend, the Kents enjoying a Super-family dinner. After the dark events of the previous arc, this is a welcome change of pace. With Superman and his family whole once more, a sense of calm has fallen over the Kent farm. Things take a more dramatic turn when our surprise character shows up — Batman! In a very rare decision, DC did not promote Batman’s guest appearance in this issue, making his sudden emergence all the more compelling.

READ: Discover how Superman was finally “Reborn” in our review of ACTION COMICS #976!

Batman conveys some very unsettling information about Jon. As SUPERMAN #20 dips into much darker territory in its second half, the character dynamics begin playing effectively. The interactions are at their most fun when Batman and Damian enter the scene. As the Kents and Waynes talk in the kitchen, Damian and Jon offer some side commentary and fun little references to their exploits in SUPER SONS. The funniest line brings up Batman’s refusal to eat Lois’ desert offering. As Damian puts it: “Batman doesn’t eat pie.”

It’s always fascinating how Batman’s perceived presence changes depending on the comic he’s in. In his own series, Batman’s sharp detective skills play as heroic and necessary, but here, in the more emotion-based SUPERMAN, Batman tends to come off as distinctly threatening and contrarian. That dynamic has never been more clear than in SUPERMAN #20, in which Batman makes grave implications about Jon’s dangerous potential. Superman immediately goes on the offensive here, sighting positivity in the face of Batman’s negative predictions. Tomasi and Gleason have made this new Superman family dynamic so endearing, we can’t help but side with them and view Batman as villainous. To think that Jon could be some kind of threat? Madness!

Superman #20

Of course, the writers are probably laying the groundwork for this potential threat to be explored in the future, but after the dimension-spanning “Superman Reborn,” the script here wisely sticks to more homegrown threats. As Batman investigates the source of Jon’s power suppression, SUPERMAN #20 makes another surprising storytelling turn, returning to the dark matter figure we’d last seen in SUPERMAN #17 — a presence we’d all but forgotten about. This is yet another example of Tomasi and Gleason’s masterful plotting. Each arc has subtly introduced elements to be explored later in other arcs, keeping the momentum steadily going forward.

With all of these interesting plot turns, the only downside is that it’s not quite clear which threat we should be more worried about— Jon or the dark matter. Batman presents both problems in a bit of a contradictory capacity. He appears to be cautious about letting Jon’s powers grow, yet is bent upon finding whatever is stopping the boy’s powers. This is probably just Tomasi and Gleason placing one plot point before the other, but, in a way, it comes off as Batman being indecisive. I probably wouldn’t have noticed this if it were any other character, but because it’s Batman, this murky intent appears somewhat out of character. Yet, as an antithetical darkness to Superman’s light, Batman still is utilized extremely well.

READ: Last issue, Superman went toe to toe with Mr. Mxyzptlk — read about their interdimensional battle in our review of SUPERMAN #19!

Speaking of light and dark, the pencil-work by Gleason and the colors by John Kalisz are a huge part of the reason this issue is so interesting. This is the most visually compelling issue of SUPERMAN I’ve seen in quite some time. Superman and Lois both look a tad younger than before, with softer tones and less facial definition. This is likely a brilliant nod to the fact that the older and younger Superman have now been unified. Superman’s first two-page spread appearance is bold and vivid, doused in the light of the yellow sun. The blue and red colors of his costume are brighter and more defined than ever before. The unification of the Kryptonian’s red and blue energy is nicely symbolized by the presence of two birds, one red and one blue, flying in tandem with Superman. Kalisz’s coloring is most powerful when Batman shows up, immediately casting the issue in shadows. As Batman takes over the comic’s narrative, everything becomes darker, in both script and art. Superman’s bright colors continue to shine though, as the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel argue over Jon’s fate. The interplay of light and shadow resonates mightily, as negative and positive outcomes of Jon’s future are discussed.

SUPERMAN #20 marks the beginning of a new chapter for Clark Kent and his family, and a welcome change of pace. The more homegrown narrative offers plenty of great character interactions, as well as a great surprise appearance from Batman and Damian. With Jon now looming at the forefront of the story, there’s a lot of potential for this series to go into bigger and darker territory. For now, though, the Kents are back on the farm. It feels like coming home again.

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